This con­tent has been writ­ten by the Intyal­heme Cen­tre for Future Ener­gy in col­lab­o­ra­tion with engi­neers and oth­er ener­gy indus­try experts with­in the Con­sor­tium Mem­ber organ­i­sa­tions of Alice Springs Future Grid, and on occa­sion, Project Asso­ciates. Please sub­mit your ques­tions, which will be answered in due course and shared on this plat­form if rel­e­vant and appro­pri­ate. You will be noti­fied via email when the answer is post­ed. Terms and con­di­tions are detailed on the sub­mit a ques­tion page. 

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What happens to solar panels at the end of their life?

This is a subject of much discussion and study, and is even the focus of a current Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) funding opportunity. It does pose a looming waste management issue, with the design life of solar panels at 20 to 30 years, and many installed well over a decade ago. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates there could be 60 to 78 million tons of photovoltaic panel waste accumulated globally by 2050. It also estimates the recyclable materials will be worth $15bn in recoverable value.

It is envisaged that recycling solar panels will create industry and employment opportunities, keep valuable resources out of landfill, help to retain rare elements, and prevent heavy metals leaching into the environment. There are a couple of companies working in this space in Australia.

How much does dust affect the output of my PV system?

Detailed studies have been conducted on this subject, concluding that dust does not have a significant impact on PV systems. This is perhaps surprising, but washing the panels with tap water in places where there is a high concentration of calcium (such as Alice Springs) can actually have a more negative effect than dust. The arrays at the DKA Solar Centre are washed once a year by a specialised company who use a reverse osmosis filtration system to treat their water before using it to wash the solar modules.

How do I find a reputable installer for my PV system?

All reputable installers will be registered with the Clean Energy Council. You can find out more in the Consumer section of its website.

How can I tell if my PV system is actually working on my roof?

Output will vary according to the weather, and you can monitor your inverter or read your meter to get an idea of your solar array’s performance. Most solar installers also allow remote monitoring through various apps. Another source of information will be your bill, and your solar installer will be able to assist with such enquiries.

How many household solar systems are there in Alice Springs now? How many more per year are being installed? Is there a limit to how many can be installed?

According to figures from Power and Water Corporation, Alice Springs had 2,018 grid-connected rooftop PV systems at the end of financial year 18/19. The total capacity of these systems was 10.2MW. This does not include the 4MW Uterne Solar Farm. Based on the last four years of data, rooftop PV is being installed at an average rate of approximately 200 systems per year, with a capacity of 1.3MW.

If I have an old PV system, can I retrofit a battery onto that or is it cheaper to replace everything with a new system?

Residential batteries can be fitted to most households with existing PV systems. Replacing the entire system will depend on the age of the infrastructure – panels and inverter primarily. Further information should be sought from accredited CEC installers, or alternatively see websites such as Solarquotes to gain a better understanding of the various technicalities.

Can I go fully off-grid in town? What will it cost me?

With solar PV and batteries it is technically possible to go off-grid, but Alice Springs residents would need a very big battery or backup diesel generator to cover occasions where there is limited sun for consecutive days. The most common option is to install PV and BESS in proportion to household needs, and let the grid come to the rescue when its needed. In the future, plentiful PV and BESS will create a very resilient system, because it’s highly unlikely that they could all fail at once. For most people it is not financially viable to go off-grid, but as centralised energy generation incorporates a growing proportion of renewables, it means everyone will eventually be provided with cleaner energy.

Could Alice Springs reach 100% renewables by 2030?

Solar is currently the only viable renewable resource in Central Australia, so to reach 100% solar would require a very large (and prohibitively expensive) battery, to cover the overnight periods. If we can overcome grid stability challenges, it may well be possible to reach 100% solar during the day. Further investigations are required to determine if wind energy is able to diversify the Alice Springs energy portfolio. Factors that could assist - but are outside the scope of Alice Springs Future Grid - include the adoption of electric vehicles and their integration into the grid, and the development of a green hydrogen industry.

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